“Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood to thy people of Israel’s charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.”
After a tense few minutes through the crumbling entrance arches, we proceed through in our large white van, prepared for anything. The brittle concrete arches evoke feelings of pity, destruction and despair. Two useless, withered flags in black, green, red and white are perched at the top, like wilted flowers, ready to fall from the hoist; one is half-burnt. There is supposed to be a wall surrounding the main entrance, but it has been partially destroyed by rocket fire. So far, no efforts have been made to repair them. In general, most buildings we have seen thus far look as if they should be condemned. No exception awaits us, as we enter the camp and behold the pitiful sight on our journey.
We see poorly-constructed buildings, some of them collapsed into the ground foundations, others looking ready to fall at any moment. We see scores of naked children, grieving adults, and despondent mothers, sisters, foraging for broken pieces of bricks, and metal to construct their own shanty town dwellings. We make our way a limited space within the centre, where there is some level of space and respite from the horrible ruins that define this God forsaken land. Facing us is a large concrete wall, with an inscription written upon it, in Arabic. I ask my guide what the inscription says. He tells me it’s a famous passage from the Qur’an. It reads:
“And say not of those who are killed in the Way of Allah, “They are dead.” Nay, they are living, but you perceive not.”
Now, we park, and my guide-cum-interpreter, Imran and I disembark from the van, and open both doors, bracing ourselves for the imminent assault on our bodily senses. The heat is the first thing to attack us – it is a hostile, unforgiving summer in July, where the temperature is said to be as high as 30oc. Already it seems as if I am ready to break into a sweat. When I consider that this is not the highest recording temperature for the region, and that it is not even noon yet, I only feel more uncomfortable. In an instant, we also encounter the nasty, unbearable stench of raw human faeces, urine and vomit, that lies thick through the warm air. Imran holds his hand to his mouth, and his nose, and I see him reach for a handkerchief. I calmly proceed to the rear doors of the van.
This is Jabaliya Refugee camp. The largest of the 8 camps within the Gaza strip, this place houses over 100,000 Palestinian refugees. All of the inhabitants situated here live in misery, squalor and everlasting despair. First constructed in 1948, following the end of the first Israeli civil war and the establishment of the Independent Jewish state, Palestinians flocked here, hoping that one day they would be able to return to their homeland. But that day did not come, and peace in the Holy land seems more elusive than ever. To the best of my knowledge, I will try and give a brief history lesson:
With the year 1948 witnessing the precarious establishment of the first ever Jewish nation-state surrounded by unsympathetic Arab nations who did not recognise its right to exist, territorial conflict was inevitable. The Jews were seen as troublesome invaders, living in stolen Muslim land. Surrounded by hostile Muslim nations determined to banish the settlers, Israel was subjected to a series of wars, one shortly after its foundation in 1948. Though the Israelis were surrounded, they put up a great resistance, and survived the conflict. But the pro-Palestinian confederacy was determined to get even with its new opponents; this resulted in another, much larger full-scale war nearly 20 years later in the year 1967, with the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq all determined to annihilate her. But impressively, against overwhelming odds and though impossibly outnumbered, the Jewish people bravely resisted the all-out onslaught, and in just 6 days won a decisive victory, and thus the territorial lines of Israel were redrawn. Her opponents begrudgingly had no choice but to accept Israel’s right to existence, and hegemony over all Palestinian land. Out of nowhere, and in the span of barely half a century, the downtrodden, unwelcome Jewish diaspora had returned and reclaimed their promised land, and created a permanent home for themselves, just as prophesied in the Bible.
It was at this point, however, when Israel’s attitude to its Palestinian neighbours began to change. To put it bluntly: David became Goliath. Israel’s new leadership ignored and rejected UN Resolution 242, demanding that Israel return all lands captured in the six-day war to the Palestinians, and under the uncompromising reign of the right-wing Likud party, Israel’s army began a ruthless expansionist policy of religiously-inspired colonialism, which oversaw mass construction of Israeli settlements, most of which violated the UN’s designated boundaries. Only three areas of land were left for the Palestinians, the West Bank which was originally part of Jordan, the Golan Heights of Syria, and the Gaza Strip to the east, which is the smallest reserve of Palestinian territory. In the year 1987, there was a tense 5 year Palestinian uprising of protests, boycotts and attacks aimed at Israel’s forces known as the First Intifada. Now the tide was turning; under intense scrutiny from the US and Arab emissaries from the United Nations, the clandestine nature behind Israel’s occupation of Palestine was finally coming to light. Things got worse, when 15 years later, at the turn of the millennium, another Intifada – The Second Intifada occurred, except this one was bloodier – more violent, with more civilian casualties on both sides. This period saw waves of suicide bombers and terrorists attacking the Israeli capital, with equally brutal retaliation by the IDF.
Now more relevantly, on the 14th August, in the year 2005, the then prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, made a bold and daring move. He ordered that all Israeli military personnel, and civilian settlers would be immediately evacuated and withdrawn from the Gaza strip. With Gaza no longer under Israeli control, it was believed that the Palestinians would enjoy some of the freedom that they had so long craved, and the violence would eventually stop. But it was not so. Because in truth, Israel never really did withdraw from Gaza. It is arguably the case that the Gazans are now even worse off than they used to be. Because Gaza is so completely isolated and cut off from Israel through gigantic security walls, and with every basic facilities such as electricity, water and food supplies under Israeli control, Gaza is completely dependent on Israel for life support, making Gaza de facto under Israeli suzerainty. Currently, as things stand, Gaza has only one working power station which is only able to provide 6 to 7 hours of electricity per day. Most of the water that exists here, which comes from either well springs, or water suppliers is undrinkable, and filled with all manner of harmful diseases and parasites. Because Gaza has no working sewage system, gallons of raw, untreated sewage from refugee houses is pumped straight out into the Mediterranean ocean. The water is completely unsafe for even handling, let alone drinking. And recently, things have gotten much worse.
Crucially, only one week ago, in response to rocket fire from Hamas, Israeli Defence Forces unleashed a fierce barrage of airstrikes and drone attacks in retaliation, which caused considerable damage to the coast near Khan Younis, and as a result, permanently damaged the West Coastal Aquifer, which is – or rather, was Gaza’s only working desalination plant. Now, the Gazans have no source of clean drinking water. And with the ruthless, murderous summer heat looming over, draining their energy and threatening their lives, foreign and humanitarian aid is the only hope these refugees have, if they are to survive.
And that’s what brings me here. Many years ago, I signed up to take part in a volunteering programme organised by a British-based International charity organisation known as White Cross, co-ordinated by the United Nations Work and Relief Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), to travel within the 8 refugee camps, and distribute food, clothing and cold, clean bottled water to the locals. Now, in light of what has just happened, here I am here again today, helping these casualties, who are struggling to survive. This is all temporary, until UNRWA finishes construction of a new and fully-functional water desalination plant, which will probably take half a year to finish. But in the meantime, this is the only clean water they will ever have to drink, so the lives of the Palestinians are currently in our hands. All employees of the UNRWA are funded and salaried by the United Nations and donors. But not me – I’m not doing this for the money. I’m simply fulfilling the duty of the Lord.
As we struggle against the intense heat and the stench of raw sewage, Imran and I retrieve stacks of cold bottled water from the van, and lower them to the ground. Now that the locals can see what we are doing, I hear cheers and exclamations of joy – children point towards us, when they see what we’ve brought them. Christmas in July. The sights of eager young boys wearing torn clothes, with warm and hopeful smiles on their faces brings a smile to Imran’s face. He forages through the packaging, and retrieves two bottles, and calls them over, in Arabic. I call them over too, but in English, since I can’t speak or understand any Arabic. Before long, hundreds of people; mostly children are crowded round our van, in the centre of the camp rejoicing, holding out their hands, with more pleasance and gratitude than desperation. Now, the quiet, desolate wasteland that is Jabaliya refugee camp, is alive with laughter, cheers, rejoicing and song. Lost in the spirit of his own generosity, Imran starts vividly throwing them into the crowd, like he is giving out free prizes. I calmly do the same. The crowd becomes uncontrollably large. It is hard to believe that so many people can fit within a place as small as 1.4 square kilometres.
As I distribute the bottled water high into the air, and watch as the young children catch them in their hands, I think of what Bee would say, if she was here with me. No doubt, her face would light up in that delectable, radiant way it always did, with tears of joy in her eyes, and she would definitely say to me: “Isn’t it wonderful, Daniel? To give to the poor, and embrace them in the warmth of the Lord’s blessing?”
I agree that it’s a nice feeling. Many judge acts of kindness not by their intentions, but by their results. Even though, from an outside perspective, what we are currently doing can be seen as trivial and inconsequential on its own, since they will need more water delivered to them in the next couple of hours –the intention is what matters. In any case, that was certainly what she believed.
“Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”
While I am busy handing out supplies to the crowd which only continues to grow larger and larger, I start to think deeply and reminisce about the past. How much I miss her, and how I wish she was still here by my side. I miss her delightful, benevolent smile. Reflecting on her beauty, her youthful vivacity, and her everlasting charisma makes me sad, as I realise I cannot hold her in my arms like I used to, all those years ago.
It was long back in Secondary school, when we first met. I was always the shy and quiet, shaggy-haired teenager who never really spoke to or mixed with anyone, and thus I didn’t have many friends. Most people found me either annoying, or just a bit weird; generally people avoided me. I was never chosen as a partner for school work in any classes, and when the lunch bell rang, I would always spend my time reading in the library. But that all changed, on the beginning of our 10th year, she was introduced to our Form class. Beatrice Cohen was her name, but her nickname was simply “Bee”. She looked geeky, but in a really sweet way, with luscious, curled chestnut hair, deep brown angel’s eyes, a long, narrow and delicate nose, shining metallic braces over her teeth, and would never be seen with her reading glasses. She had a moderately sun-kissed complexion that was halfway between white and bronze; barely noticeable at first, until you compared her with the other girls in class, and saw the difference. She was not conventionally attractive, per se, but she still caught my eye, and unlike most girls I’d ever known, she had something that truly set her apart from the rest – a heart of pure gold.
Once she made her entrance in our form class, she enthusiastically became acquainted with the rest of the class, blissfully ignoring and overstepping the unspoken, cynical mores of student behaviour. At one point, she came over and introduced herself to me, asking my name, and details about myself. I’d never known any girl show that much interest in someone like me, even if this were just a formality – it still felt unique. Then when I sheepishly told her who I was and answered her questions, she gave me a warm hug for no real reason, and told me that she “love(d)” me. I’d seen her do the same thing with everybody else in the form class, but it felt so special to me. No pretty looking girl had ever shown that much interest in me before. It was scary, I first remember thinking. But I was curious, and wanted to know more about her, so I started talking with and sitting next to her more often. She devoted more time to me than any of my other classmates as we became wrapped up in discussions of God, and the Bible, and that was when I began to notice her warmth and compassion, which only made her become more and more beautiful in my eyes. I learned that she came from a Jewish family, except they were not the regular orthodox type, but instead, she was what was known as a “Messianic Jew” – a religious minority that combined the teachings of Christianity, with the traditions of Judaism, and Hebrew culture; who like the Christians maintain that Jesus was the son of God. Only a really small number of them live here in Britain. Before we met, I’d never really known much about either Judaism or Christianity – being a wilful agnostic, I didn’t know the first thing about religion, nor did I ever care to know.
Her mother was Romanian. Her father, though British-born, was more the conservative type. Bee explained to me that it was not impossible to reconcile and believe in both the ancient wisdom contained in the Old Testament, with the forgiveness and mercy found in the New Testament. She still attended the synagogue, took part in traditional ceremonies, celebrated Hanukkah, and spoke modest Hebrew, but meanwhile, she felt personally inspired by the message of Christ, and it was her evangelical zeal in promoting his love, that encouraged her to change peoples’ lives for the better. Every day at school, she would step beyond her comfort zone and engage in dialogue with other students, asking them what they believed in, and why they believed it.
Unfortunately, this did not make her popular at all. Instead, it only made her the butt of jokes. Because of the arrogant secularism contained within the climate of British schools, you see, religion as a topic is often dismissed out of hand as an evil or malevolent force, and when it wasn’t being blacklisted in everyday discussion due to its lack of cultural appeal, it was often mercilessly derided, and seen by many as a silly, outdated and childish fantasy. Anybody who preached what they believed in would be openly mocked and teased. Bee was certainly no exception. People would call her names, like “the God botherer”, “Beesus”, “Bee the Bible shagger” and so on; they would never resist the opportunity to poke fun at her. But she never took these insults personally, because she genuinely believed in turning the other cheek. And despite what all the other students thought, I saw something special in her. She won me over with her enthusiasm, I guess. I was never raised to be religious – I was baptised at birth, but only out of a nod for tradition, nothing more.
But as Bee and I became good friends, she encouraged me more and more to read the Holy Bible, and it was not long before I did take a personal interest. I was not sure if I believed in God. But she converted me. She told me that Jesus was a real person who lived and died, she spent all day talking about how he resisted the hatred, how he stood fast against the temptation of Satan, and sacrificed himself to atone for the sins of mankind. At first I only started reading the Bible for her sake. But the more and more I read, the more it all made sense. The more the passages of the New, and the Old Testament began to resonate within me. Surely, she persuaded me, we are all unique creations in God’s image. And I came to realise that there must surely be an all-knowing, all-powerful entity somewhere in the universe, who monitors our actions, our words and our thoughts both before and after they happen, just as He prepares to render His Final Judgement upon humankind.
Sweat falls from my brow and the nape of my neck, as I am almost finished lobbing water bottles to the poor children. The stack of bottles is almost empty. It may be time to retrieve another one from the van. Imran gleefully assists me with the next load. The noise of the multitudes of refugees is louder than ever, as bounteous praise and calls of thirst are showered upon us. While Imran and I lower the next box to the ground, I survey the increasing crowd once more. And soon I find myself once again lost in thought…
We would spend many months debating the stories and the moral values of Bible together, in particular, the advantages of forgiveness over revenge. Though Bee was very outspoken and vocal about what she believed in, she was always willing to engage in argument and view her Holy book critically; to consider her opponent’s point of view. Yes, she acknowledged, religion had throughout history been the justification of mass persecution of heretics, non-believers, homosexuals, and people with different beliefs often led to wars and brutal conflict. But conflict, she warns, is neither preached nor praised, let alone justified in the New Testament. Jesus was a man who preached love and tolerance to the end. What was the most violent thing he ever did? He overthrew the tables of the merchants in his Father’s holy temple – because with their thoughtless commercial activity and blind sacrilege, they had made His house of prayer into a “den for thieves.” Jesus would have forgiven anything, so long as the trespasser was repentant, and willing to embrace the Lord, and never to sin once more. Only he who is without sin should cast the first stone. This was one of our more contentious points for debate that drew out the differences between us. “Really?” I would ask her. “But aren’t there some crimes that are so horrible, so evil, that they cannot be forgiven under any circumstances?”
Bee would tut and shake her head coyly. “No – that’s precisely it. Because Jesus’s mission was to save all of humanity from eternal Hellfire and damnation. The only way to turn them away from sin, is to make them acknowledge their human flaws, make them repent.” This would only lead down the road of more discussion, as to whether some human beings would never see the error in their ways, and whether they were worth saving. It was only inevitable, I reasoned, that I should ask her what she thought about Hitler. Her response, though I was half-expected her to say it, still left me in stunned silence: “Well, even though practically my entire family on my grandmother’s side was wiped out… yes – I’d forgive him! Even for the crimes he’d committed against my people. As long as he embraces the teachings of Jesus, and repents 6 million times, for the 6 million Jews he killed and finally embraces their rights as people, and turns to the Lord’s wisdom and strength!”
I was so shocked by the extreme nature of her beliefs – and could not find myself in a position to agree with her. To some extent, I did believe that the ability to forgive was a strength, over choosing to resent them over time, but what she told me there and then was just plain ridiculous. I had to argue back; I actually shouted at her. Not that this was a personal matter; my grandparents were still alive, and I had no trace of Jewishness in my blood. But it felt just so contrary to what I believed in, and I felt that it went against basic common sense. I don’t know what gave me the right to be so arrogant, but suddenly I felt that I was the expert, and she the unenlightened. So convicted I was by my own beliefs that she was all wrong, I yelled at her with such force, that I actually ended up making her cry. I knew instantly that I had gone too far. Then I said I was sorry, I repented before her, and she forgave me. We laughed about the whole thing afterwards.
“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people. But thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.”
For some time now, I had come to realise, that in spite of our differences in upbringing, and our intense theological debate, I was deeply in love with her. She was not just beautiful to me, in spirit and in appearance, but she was also my best, and closest friend. We always ate our lunches together. We held hands together as we walked back from school. People laughed, jeered, and wolf-whistled at us, as we walked by, making sexual comments here and there. But we didn’t care. She loved me too. Of course, we all know that within religious context, “love” is infinitely flexible; she did after all say that she “love(d)” me when we first me too. But she grew attached to me in the same way that I did with her. I forget when, what exact day it was that we had our first kiss, but I’ll never forget the kiss. The warmth of her lips, her silent contentment, and her passionate grip against my shoulders, while I stroked her long hair. It was unlike anything I experienced before. I never thought I’d find myself loved and valued by a girl. I always saw myself as an outcast; a reject. I never thought that romances happened to weirdos like me – I never thought I was worthy of a woman’s attention. It was an unexpected, and truly wonderful feeling. Already I knew that she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
One day, she took me to see her family for the first time. Of course, her father, God bless him, was initially reluctant to allow her daughter be seen in the household with a Gentile. Tradition, and all that. But when we knocked on the door to her house together, hand in hand, and he saw us together, how happy we looked, he told me later in confidence that his heart melted there and then. Contrary to what Bee told me, he was actually a cheerfully humorous man, short and portly, with a thick bushy moustache, hairy arms with frizzy, greying-brown hair, and a long, prominent nose – unmistakably the same nose that Bee had grown up to inherit. He was a chemist by trade, who worked for the NHS. Bee’s mother was one of the loveliest, kindest women I ever met. Bee often joked with me about how stereotypical Jewish mothers were always portrayed as excessively strict, annoyingly clingy, and when they weren’t busy trying to play matchmaker with their children, were often unnecessarily sceptical about who they would bring into the house. I wasn’t aware of it then, and I’m still not aware of it now. She received me with wonderful kindness, and nor did even she resist the opportunity to laugh at her own expense. When we sat in prayer over the table that evening, and as the father recited a Hebrew prayer, I knew at that point that I was a part of their family.
Shortly after my 18th birthday, once we had both finished our A-levels, that was when I made the fateful decision of asking her to marry me. Even as I uttered those words to her and produced my humble but previous looking ring to her, the way her pupils dilated, her expression of paralysed shock and awe, all assured me that there was no way she could possibly refuse. She spontaneously snatched me in her arms there and then in a loving hug, and squeezed me so hard that I couldn’t breathe, tearfully, wailing that her answer was unequivocally yes, and she would love me forever. It was the happiest day of my life – outranking by far the kiss. Initially, I was a little concerned as to how her parents would react, I’d heard that mixing with goyim is said to be frowned upon in the Torah. But I learned over time that beyond their rigid adherence to Hebrew and Christian scripture, all her parents wanted was for their daughter to be happy, and they knew beyond reasonable doubt that I was the one she loved. They embraced me as their new son-in-law. Already, we were barely adults, and making plans for our wedding. But that day never came.
1 Samuel 24:12-13 –
“The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee. As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.”
Now that Imran and I have finished distributing the water, we stand leaning over each other’s shoulders triumphantly, looking into what we have achieved. A small, shirtless boy approaches us gleefully, holding a half-drunk bottle in his hand, and says something to the two of us. Imran starts to converse with him in Arabic. I ask what he is saying. Imran tells me that the young boy’s name is Yusuf, and today he has just turned four years old – today is his birthday. He says he was born here, in Jabaliya camp, and he has 5 older brothers, and two sisters. Yusuf looks at the two of us, and gleefully thanks us for the cold water.
Imran bends down, and gives the small child a big hug, and lifts him into the air. I watch as he plays joyously with the boy, carrying him around, pretending to be a fighter jet. It’s a very touching scene. This was just how Bee liked to treat the refugee children as well, I remember. She would plant affectionate kisses on their foreheads, and hug them tenderly, like she was their real mother. She liked nothing more than to be kind and charitable. It was what defined her. When I think about her personality, I sometimes think that even without her fervent belief in God and Jesus, she would still be living a life devoted to charity and kindness. It was in her soul. The teachings of the Bible alone are insufficient to turn people to righteousness – there must be a kindly soul who must be willing, loyal and ready to give them a fair interpretation. Bee was all of those things. For as long as I knew her, all she ever wanted for nothing other than to see others happy. No man or woman ever matched her compassion, her love for humanity, and her extreme altruism. Least of all, me. And nor was she vain either. She always held the belief, that acts of kindness should have no motivation other than for its own sake. Because compassion was the ultimate end of all humanity, and the only way to be granted passage into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Imran lowers the child to the ground. A large, veiled woman, with two young boys alongside her, and a bulging stomach, calls out his name. She is his mother. They have a brief exchange in Arabic, and the boy shows his half-consumed water bottle, and produces it to her. The woman gives us a toothless smile, and earnestly thanks both of us. We see that she also has a bottle of her own. Imran asks Yusuf what he wants to be when he is older. He says excitedly that when he is grown up, he wants to be a shahid – a Muslim martyr. Imran grimaces, and giggles nervously for no reason. He is not sure what to say.
It was a year after we met and became close with each other, we were both 16 years old, sat together watching television, that we witnessed something which changed our lives. We were both watching dull late-night TV together, and about to stop, when until a BBC documentary came on air, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bee immediately took an interest in this, insisting we both watch it – for it was important to her. While she considered herself a Christian in outlook and perspective, she still fiercely retained the pride of being Jewish, and had long dreamt of one day living and working in God’s Holy city. This documentary revealed the unpleasant nature behind Israel’s governance – particularly, its cruel, oppressive treatment of the Palestinians. I forget what it was called, or who presented it. The documentary showed harrowing footage from reporters, who travelled from the West Bank, to the refugee camps in trans-Jordan, all the way over to the Gaza strip. We saw dreadful, graphic footage of bleeding children, wounded by bullets and shrapnel. We were shown frantic scenes within a makeshift A&E hospital housing numerous grieving families, all fearing for their lives, as the reporter passionately interacted with them, and they told their stories and witness accounts.
I noticed that Bee had fallen completely silent throughout the whole thing. This was unlike her – normally she was always in a talkative, chipper mood, especially when watching television. But she lay still in deep, solemn silence, as she took in everything that was being said. I could tell that this was clearly having an effect on her. We were shown footage of Hamas soldiers, and survivors of IDF rocket attacks, and they told of how their houses had been completely destroyed. How every aspect of their lives was governed by Israeli bureaucracy, from food and water, to the electricity, to their education. They commented on how, as each day went past, they constantly lived in fear of a brutal reprisal from Israeli forces. They explained how the Israeli soldiers had a notorious policy of collective punishment – how villages and communities paid the price for the destructive actions of rogue Palestinian terrorists. We saw shocking footage of explosions in the city of Hebron, dead bodies, men, women and children all running for their lives, while reporters took cover from bullets and artillery fire.
The report ended with a very damning speech, denouncing Israel’s criminal occupation, how the place known to the world as “The Holy Land”, was in actual fact, little more than a religious apartheid state. While the Israeli Jews lived healthy, fulfilling lives, blissfully ignorant, beyond the outskirts of their comfortable houses and safe cities and past the gigantic security fence, lay another world, where the Palestinian Arabs lived in oppression, destitution, and misery. The narrator lambasted the smugness and callousness of the Israeli president, Benjamin Netanyahu, when he claimed that the Palestinian leadership was entirely to blame for the conflict. The reporter vociferously condemned the West Bank Wall which she declared to be a violation of the 1967 “Green Line”, and by extension, a violation of human rights, and how it was being used as a means of annexation, to segregate the Palestinians and deny them their “right of return” to their land. She passionately drew attention to Israel’s appalling track record for human rights against Palestinian protestors and activists throughout history, citing historical examples to prove her point that the Israeli government was not interested in a Two-state solution. “As long as we…” she solemnly concluded “…turn a blind eye to this unspeakable evil that we know is happening, then we continue to accept it, and let the Israeli Government get away with their crimes.”
Bee was absolutely heartbroken by what she saw. I could see from within her eyes, that her soul had been shattered. Her parents had always talked about Jerusalem as if it were the most wonderful place on earth – a city of righteous, God-fearing and peaceful people; and they had always praised their history as one of survival against trials and tribulations – how they had erected their own country from a small scrap of land to the beacon of liberty and tolerance in the Middle East Desert within as little as 20 years. Now, all her core beliefs had all been shaken. Suddenly, she felt sick, like she’d been lied to for her whole entire life. “This is so unfair… Why?” she lamented, “How can God’s people do this? This is just so wrong… Those poor Palestinians…”
From that moment on, Bee changed. While she still retained her optimism, her love for the Human race and her joy, she had soon become consumed, inflamed by a new sense of purpose. She resolved to dedicate her life to help put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle – to stop the injustice in her heartland, and to do all she could to help the suffering. Naturally, I too became devoted to her cause. Because I loved Bee, and worshipped the ground she walked on, I too wanted to accompany her in her quest to improve the lives of the Palestinians, and make a stand against the cruel regime of the Israelis. Not because I was a good person; I certainly wasn’t. But because I knew it was what she desperately wanted.
But her parents were furious, when she told them about what she planned to do. They told her that what she saw on the television was all rubbish; one-sided, biased anti-Semitic propaganda that only gave a slanted view of Israeli history by leaving out crucial details of the wars, the wave of terrorist attacks by Hamas, and how uncooperative the Palestinian leadership has been in peace negotiations; just to fit their convenient narrative. The argument got so intense, I knew I could not be there to witness it. What that day taught me, was that all Jewish people deep down feel a spiritual connection with their ancestral homeland. While Jews might be divided on the issue of Zionism and the Holy Land, the very controversial nature of the subject alone was likely to arouse strong feelings in them, and inevitably, lead to arguments. It was a little frightening, and for so many reasons I wish they had never ended up having this conversation.
That was 6 years ago. Two years after that, once Bee and I finished our A-levels, and became engaged, she had decided to do what she had long been planning, spend her Gap Year participating in global Humanitarian aid programmes; and in particular, she had her sights set on helping the refugees in the camps in and around Israel. Even at this point, her parents were still reluctant to let her go. I suppose, they were both proud for her determination to help the poor, but they really only wanted what was best for her. They warned her that she was still only a young girl, just 18 years old – with so much to learn about life, and human nature. But Bee was stubborn, and assured them that she was doing God’s work. This was also, she told them, for her personal enrichment, to understand the world better, and prepare her later in life, when she would study medicine at University, and ambition to become a doctor.
After much coaxing, and realising that her mind was absolutely made up, Bee’s father made me swear that I would personally look after her, and make sure she didn’t do anything stupid or dangerous. Of course, I naturally accepted. I would do anything for her, and I vowed that would return together, and in time we would be husband and wife.
“O Lord God, to whom revenge belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself. Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.”
Now that Imran and I are finished, we stroll through the urban wasteland. He smiles at me, feeling pleased with what we have done. Then, when I don’t respond to him, he lifts a hand over my shoulder. He looks earnestly in my eyes, asking me if I’m alright. I don’t answer. “You haven’t spoken a word since we got here…” he informs me.“Look…” he begins to say “I cannot begin to imagine how hard this must be for you. Honestly, I know these past four years must have been really painful… I know that you miss her.” Again, I don’t respond. He is trying to get a response out of me, but I deny him the satisfaction. “None of it was your fault. And it certainly wasn’t hers, either…” In spite of my efforts, my jawbone and throat rattle, and I start to breathe a little faster. A tear forms in my eye. He give me a big, warm hug. “It’s alright – it’s okay, I know you are really sad… But if only she could see what you’re doing now… she’d be so happy; so pleased for you, Daniel. She always talked about what a nice, lovely person you always were – She was right. Just think – this is exactly what she would have wanted, isn’t it?” I exhale heavily, and break away eye contact from him, looking at the ground. I don’t want to him to know how troubled I am. I’m starting to feel anger. How dare he try to manipulate my intimate memories of the past to make me feel positive. He doesn’t have a clue what he is saying.
Imran tries to change the subject. He points to a battered, broken unusable car in the distance. “That car…” he begins. “Do you remember when we all clambered inside, and pretended to drive it, with me sitting in the front and you two in the back? We took a picture, and it came up on the front page of our website. Remember that? That was a laugh, wasn’t it? I always remember it was was way cosier than I thought it would be.”
I cannot help but release a suppressed chuckle. Alright, I figure, If he’s that desperate, I’ll throw him a bone. Then, as we stroll down the camp, we break into a conversation about the Qu’ran. He tells me about how the Qur’an encourages kindness peace and tolerance, and how both Jesus and Mohammed both were both messengers of the same God. Contrary to popular belief, he informs me, Allah was not simply the name of the Muslim God, Allah was actually the Arabic name for “God”, within all monotheistic religions. It is a contraction of the words “Al-” and “ilah”, meaning “The God”. So, he explains, Christians in Arab countries also believe in Allah. Imran tells me, that ever since he was a young boy, he always wanted to see an end to the suffering of the Palestinians and at least within his lifetime, see the day when Israel tears down the walls, and agrees to a Two-state solution, and for peace to reign supreme. He says he is “dying of thirst” in the heat, and retrieves a bottle from his pocket, to help himself to a “cheeky sip” of the charity water. He grins at me, and I widen my eyes at him with a vacant expression.
Yusuf starts to follow us, as if he wants to play. His mother calls after him, but he is in a playful, defiant mood. I look in the pale, blue sky, to see a bird hovering over our heads. That’s strange, I think. How can birds live around here, in an area so hazardous, so devoid of life? What kind of bird could that be? My first thought is maybe a pigeon – pigeons can survive almost anywhere. Or perhaps it’s a vulture, waiting to feast on the corpses of the dead. I am not an ornithologist, so I conclude that I’ll never know in my lifetime.
Now, I stand in what I have calculated to be the very centre of the camp. I look around, surveying the entire land, so engrossed in what I see, that the stench and the heat do not bother me. I look to my right, and I move closer to a heap of junk, from a car that has been destroyed. That’s it, I see. That’s where Bee and I stood together. That was where we gave out water, blankets, and food to the children. We watched the sun hover in its zenith from beyond the horizon together side by side, that day, and blessed the Lord for not failing to provide even trace amounts of beauty, in such ugly, Godforsaken areas. Imran calls after me, but I cannot hear what he says. I am busy, deep in thought about the past, and the future.
2 Chronicles 6:23
“Then hear thou from heaven, and do, and judge thy servants, by requiting the wicked, by recompensing his way upon his own head; and by justifying the righteous, by giving him according to his righteousness.”
I was a little unsure of what to think, when we first touched down at Tel Aviv, but both of us had a wonderful time exploring the Holy Land. I’d seen postcard pictures of the Golden Dome before, but never seen it up close before. It was a strange feeling – and I liked it. I felt like I was privileged in a way, to be standing before such an important, historical artefact. I felt even stranger when I stopped to consider all the people who must have died for this dome. One building worth more than thousands of lives. Bee and I even took a corny-looking selfie in front of the Wailing Wall. It didn’t matter that what we did was not ground-breaking, it was just really kind – and we weren’t simpletons. Both of us knew we would never end the Middle-East conflict on our own. But we wanted to play our part. Being exposed to the horrors within the camps – the starved, the sick, and the dying opened up a whole layer of emotions in Bee’s heart, that bordered on maternal instinct.
Both Palestinian adults and children were in awe of her kindness, and her loving nature. She stroked infant babies, and cradled them to sleep. She kissed their foreheads, she hugged them warm and tightly. She tried practising Arabic, though with little success. It is a difficult language to learn. But the language of kindness and love is universal, as she always preached, and everyone recognises it when they see it. Because love is motivated by the soul. And all human beings, whether they are aware of it or otherwise, she reasoned, have one and are guided by it.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things have passed away.
And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
Suddenly, something interrupts my silent meditation. Crowds of people to my left stop their rejoicing and dancing, and start to double over. Something has stopped them in their tracks. They start to cough, and clutch their hands over their stomachs. They groan. Then the groaning intensifies. I look behind me, and see scores of men, women and children behind me on their knees. Grumbles of confusion, alarm and sudden wails of pain start to flood the camp. I look back to Imran, and Yusuf and his family. They look around puzzled – bewildered by what is going on. Suddenly, Yusuf’s mother collapses, her hands protectively clutching her belly. I move in closer to investigate. Yusuf and his brothers start to express concern, and gather round her – asking her if she is alright. She starts to wheeze, and hyperventilate. Yusuf becomes increasingly agitated, and worried. Imran stands back, unsure what to do.
Now, one by one, Yusuf’s brothers start to lose control of their bodies, falling on their knees, looking very light-headed, dizzy and groaning faintly – before they start violently convulsing and grunting. Yusuf panics and looks to us for help – what’s going on? And now, Yusuf’s pupils start to widen. He feels pain and reaches for his stomach. Tears stream from his eyes. He cries out to his mother, wailing he is hurt. But his mother is completely paralysed – in an agonising, lifeless struggle on the ground. She tries to say something, but her speech is interrupted by grunts, and her vocal chords are barely functioning. She is incoherent.
Imran, as if he has snapped out of his bewildered trance, tries to do something. He frantically peppers panicked phrases of assurance in Arabic to him, tries to get him to lie on his back, patting his stomach, then suddenly changing his mind, and calling for a medic. Once he realises that he has a First-Aid kit in the back of the van, he rapidly darts his head back and forth, makes a panicked, emotional gesture to me with his eyes, demanding that I fetch the first aid kit. Then he vainly reaches for his phone in his pocket, before realising it’s pointless.
I stand completely still, watching with mild interest. Yusuf wails on the ground, like a newborn baby fresh out of the womb. The boy is scared, and in so much pain – he wants his Mum to hold onto him. But his mother is unable to hear him – she is practically already dead. Yusuf, lying on his back, floods the desert ground with his tears, piercing the air with his screams, flailing his arms about helplessly like he is under attack. Imran is now upright, on his feet, his face pouring with sweat, his hands ready to tear his short, dark, curly hair from the scalps. I calmly proceed further down the camp, and see hundreds of wailing, tortured souls in excruciating pain, most have fallen to the knees, some on all fours – some are violently sick on the ground, and fainting, lying pathetically in their own vomit. I turn my heels behind, and behind Imran, who is by now frozen like a stone statue, in that pose of fear and shock, I see more uncertain wretches, weak at the legs, all scared, in a sluggish panic, feeling dragged to the ground by their own weight.
Cyanide is a poison that kills its victims through strangulation of the blood cells. It does this by latching onto the iron contained in the cells, and preventing them from carrying out their natural purpose of cellular respiration; which means that the cells’ mitochondria are no longer able to utilise oxygen molecules to produce Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). What this means, is that the blood cells are no longer able to produce energy through the oxygen it carries. And this severely endangers the human heart, and the brain, since both require large amounts of oxygen to function properly. The early symptoms produced by the poison include: hyperventilation, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. But once the poison has taken total control of the victim’s body, this results in spasms, lung injury, inability to breathe, unconsciousness and finally: death. Cyanide’s name derives from the Ancient Greek, meaning “dark blue”, and is so named, because many victims of cyanide poisoning, due to the lack of haemoglobin in their blood, are left with a bluish tint in the skins of their dead bodies.
All around the world, Cyanide has acquired a reputation for being one of the deadliest, and most fast-acting poisons to exist. In fact, toxicologists estimate that as little as 0.5 grams has a 90% chance of killing a fully-grown man. So of course, purchasing it across the counter in most countries is practically impossible. However, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Did you know, for instance, that inside the seeds of most apples, and other common fruits lies a liquid compound known as amygdalin? Amygdalin is a bitter-tasting liquid, quite unlike the juice of the apple that surrounds the seeds. And when digested, it reacts with the digestive enzymes in the stomach to lose its layer of glucose, and at the same time, produces Hydrogen Cyanide. In my eyes, this is only further evidence to show how the Lord has concealed, deep within the bounties of the splendid nature which He Himself created, the secret, morbid instruments of death and destruction. Indeed, is it not significant how, of all places, this substance can be found in the seeds of fruit? It all just hearkens back to the significance of The Fall of Mankind, when Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden, and were cursed (or poisoned, rather) with wisdom, and this led to their expulsion from Paradise.
One should note, however, that the amygdalin found in just 1-2 ordinary fruit seeds alone, is harmless. They would have no effect whatsoever, since there is an array of enzymes in the body ready to detoxify them. But picture this: imagine if you will, say someone were to collect: to harvest the seeds of tens of thousands of apples, apricots and peaches over the span of four years, grind them to isolate and collect the juice, and keep it stored and refrigerated over time in containers, until he had accumulated as much over 1,000 kilograms of amygdalin – enough, in theory to kill over 2 million people.
Victims of acute cyanide poisoning are said to endure indescribable agony in the last few minutes of their lives. I observe calmly once more, mentally taking note of the test subjects, and their reactions. Imran suddenly looks at me in the eyes, with a transparent expression of horror. “Daniel… are – are you-?” he stutters, barely able to grasp what is happening – “Did you have something to do with –” But before he is able to complete his sentence, he too falls at the knees, panting rapidly, his pupils widening; his face melting with sweat. He lowers gradually to the ground, and starts to moan. He drools from the mouth, he clutches indiscriminately at his stomach, tries to massage his temples, He writhes about on the ground uncontrollably. He knows that he is a dead man.
I leave Imran on the ground where he belongs, and proceed to walk through the human wasteland, with both hands clasped together behind my back, surveying the destruction I have caused. Not a single person I can see stands on their own legs now – almost everyone lies grounded, and before long, I’ll be the only one standing. I notice curiously that two armed Gaza guards, presumably from the checkpoint have rushed onto the scene, looking around and shouting exclamations, hoping for some kind of response. I look towards them, wondering if they will notice me. Then, soon enough, both of the two guards fall to their knees. One tries to make a radio call, but lacks the energy to speak, or even hold onto the device. Now they are both writhing in pain, on the ground, awaiting deliverance from their agony. It is just as well. My silent peace will not be interrupted.
I look behind, remembering something. I pace slowly back to the entrance of the refugee camp, strolling all the way to Jabaliya city. I go a little further. Then I see it. That mark in the ground. No doubt about it – the metal mast in the darkened patch of land.
“I said, Lord, be thou merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.”
On the 20th July, 2016, two days after Bee and I began our service in the Gaza strip, a massive explosion tore apart a school in Jabaliya district, killing 30 Palestinian children. Bee and I both witnessed the explosion from the windows of the hotel where we stayed. It was the first time we were introduced to the violence of the real world. The Israeli government of course denied any involvement in the school’s destruction – citing that their forces were carefully coordinated to inflict as minimum collateral damage as possible. They even went as far as to accuse Hamas themselves as being responsible, as part of a ploy to kill their own citizens and framing the Israeli government as responsible, just to win the propaganda war.
It is still not known what was responsible for the explosion. But soon after the explosion occurred, in the early midnight hours, rumours were being spread that someone had deliberately planted bombs there, disguised as foodstuffs and relief packages. Worse still, word had gotten around that there was a Jew in the neighbourhood. A Zionist spy, who was working for Shabak to secretly collect information about Hamas, and to lower Palestinian morale through use of state-sponsored terror attacks.
Bee was the loveliest, and kindest girl who ever walked the planet. But she was not smart. Against the advice of the charity’s organisers, Bee had been really open about her Jewish identity. She opened her heart to the refugees, claiming that as a Jew, she personally felt responsible for what was happening, and would give anything to stop the fighting. In a fairly short time, the same girl who had approached the Palestinians with remarkable kindness, was now Gaza’s public enemy number one.
Imran, the then head organiser and camp guide, urgently burst into our hotel room, and ordered us to pack our things – we had to leave immediately. But Bee was nowhere to be seen. She’d instinctively left the hotel, obviously to view up close the effects of the explosion, which, little did she know, she was about to soon be held accountable for. I had to look for her. Imran tried to restrain me, but I wasn’t having it. I was either coming back with her alive, or not at all.
I looked around Jabaliya city, and I couldn’t see her. But what I did see gave me the most nauseating feelings in my stomach. I saw a wide gathering of people, well into the hundreds – of Palestinians gathering around a large wooden bonfire which at the very top contained the easily recognisable white and blue flag of Israel, which became the centrepiece of a raucous political demonstration. Parading around the fire was an even fierier, bearded orator, carrying in one hand a megaphone which he spoke into. Two other men stood behind him, dressed in paramilitary uniforms with balaclavas, both carrying flags that bore the Swastika. I couldn’t understand exactly what the speaker was saying, but I could see that he had this frightening look of pure contempt in his eyes. He addressed the crowd and motioned with all the fury of a rabid dog. Every hateful, vituperative word that flew from his mouth was accompanied by spit, he did not speak; he only yelled. He made the wildest hand motions, vividly gesticulating, throwing his fist from the ground to the air – I didn’t need to second guess what, or who he was talking about. Even more frightening was the way the crowds reacted. At times, the speaker yelled key phrases or words which were accompanied by a militant gesture with his fist, and the crowd reciprocated his vigour by responding in the same way. It was unsettling to watch. I took advantage of all the loud noise to escape unnoticed. I had to get out of there and find her fast.
I’d spent the entire time each hunting party had used to mobilise, looking for her. Eventually, in the very centre of Jabaliya refugee camp, I saw her standing next to a young Palestinian girl. She had a bleeding scar on her face. Bee was clearly trying to help her somehow. Standing behind a broken car, I called out to her. She looked back, but past me. I looked in the direction she was looking, and noticed to my horror that they’d found her. Mobs of at least a few hundred were marching, carrying torches, planks; anything they could get their hands on. Some had guns.
After what sounded like a war cry, they all charged towards her, like wild animals. All I could do was stand back in horror and watch as the worst was about to happen. Bee stood completely still – frozen in complete and utter terror. It must have only lasted one second, and yet I remember it with such a perverse degree of clarity.
Suddenly, Bee was knocked to the ground, completely surrounded by the mob. I wanted to do something – I really did. But I was powerless. I knew I couldn’t save her – I knew she was doomed. And as much as I wanted to look away, I couldn’t do that either. I could only cry, and feel my throat grow sore. The hideous mob made her into their plaything – they kicked her, punched her, scratched, struck, stabbed, mangled and cut her with their blunt instruments. Her cries, her shrieks of pain were completely drowned out by the hundreds of exhortative cries from the crowd. It was not just young men though, who took part – women, God-fearing women with religious headdresses, they too had a go – all eager to jump at the chance and inflict some damage. Even boys who looked to be no more than 10 years old stood in childish anticipation, begging to have their fun. It was just a big game to all of them.
After a whole minute of prolonged, brutal torture, the ringleader arranged that she be carried back to the district. The mob collectively, as if of a single mind, reorganised itself, and carried their quarry in a gruesome litter. I felt so sick unnatural chills of the body when I saw what they’d done to her. Her clothes were torn into rags, stained with her blood. Her pretty face was practically unrecognisable – her nose broken in, one of her eyeballs looking ready to fall from the socket. Her hair was no longer curled chestnut, but soggy, wet and stained with blood and dirt.
Even though I did not want to, I couldn’t muster the strength to do anything other than follow along, like a shepherd’s lamb. After that gruesome, hideous march, I kept my distance and watched from afar, like an idiot. Maybe I was hoping, in my utter stupor, that they’d finally come to their senses, and release her. This period of respite was only a brief peace for the even worse to come. Bee was dragged to what might have been either a signpost, or a streetlamp, or whatever it was – it served no other purpose in my eyes other than to exhibit the most unholy human spectacle a man could see. There, they bound her arms around the mast so she could not escape. Then I saw her being stripped, and left cold and naked, the wind flagellating against her hair. How could they… I remember thinking at that very moment – what gives them the right? Exposed, bare and motionless, all I could see was Bee puff against the tresses of soggy hair against her face. She did not look pretty anymore – her body reshaped, beaten and mutilated by the hatred of hundreds of people. I was committing a sin by witnessing it. The taste of my tears, and the chill of the cold wind left an awful taste in my mouth. Younger men in the crowd cheered, and hollered at her, making animal grunts, throughout her inglorious, bruised, battered, bare-skinned ignominy.
Then, the paramilitary troopers from earlier produced two small plastic canisters, and started to soak the helpless victim with what looked like water. But I fell to my knees. I knew exactly what was coming next. After a horrific, final declaration from that same hateful man who led the torture procession, a match was thrown. Bee’s body was set alight, transformed instantly into a sea of bright orange and yellow flames. Even from where I stood, I felt the sudden blaze warm my skin. The crowd raptured into spontaneous cheers, rejoicing and applause. I couldn’t make up my mind which sickened me more – Bee’s ungodly immolation, or the crowd’s reaction. In the crowd, I noticed hijab-wearing women at the forefront, taking off their both of their shoes, and flinging them at her. I flinched, again and again – this hatred just wasn’t going to stop. Not even at this point. I also noticed children, some lifted up on the shoulders of their parents, like it was a happy, bonding moment for them and their family. I saw indiscriminate members of the crowd recording it, with their smartphones. Pointing. Cheering. Laughter.
I began to feel dizzy. As my hearing faded, I think I could hear it concentrate at some point, on Bee’s agonising wails as she called for help, and for mercy. Then an even louder, concentrated cry from the crowd, in unison. I heard them all yell, raising their fists in the air:
I saw no women, children, or men in the crowd. All I saw were beasts. Vicious, wild beasts – apes, wolves, hyenas, jackals – No trace of humanity or mercy in anyone’s eyes. Even the children were not repulsed by the monumental scale of the violence that they were seeing. It was like they were watching a pantomime. I found my eyesight whirring and spinning out of control – at this point I simply did not care if I was going to live or die anymore. Part of me was just hoping they would notice me, and fling me on the pyre as well. But my vision cleared. I massaged my head. Then I turned around, gulped deep in my throat, and resolved to make the move towards her. I could not run, but I walked slowly – all feelings exhausted from me. I simply didn’t have the energy to run away, to cry, to be sad, or do anything else.
Then, some of the hindmost members of the crowd noticed that I had been standing there. More and more, the crowd turned its attention away from the gruesome spectacle before them and almost paved it’s way to let me walk closer, as I slowly, steadily moved towards the burning girl, my palm stretched outwards. I liked to think at that point, in her last, dying moments, she saw me reaching out towards her, that she at the very least died knowing I would never abandon her. But it was not long before the crowd suddenly turned against me as well, and I was to become their next victim. Instinctively, I dropped to the ground and did my best to shield my head, and my stomach lying face down in the foetal position. I was so sure that this would be the end of me… I felt the tide of brutal savage kicks, the club strikes over my back, the boots slamming down over the back of my head, my poor cranium getting booted mercilessly. I wanted it to be over in an instant.
But fate intervened. I heard the unmistakable high-pitched, descending whistle, a massive explosion shook the ground where I lay shortly after. Suddenly, I heard the mob begin to panic, through the thick muffle of my arms over the ears, I could tell they were all running away. Feeling unsure what to do, I eased out of my protective pose, and heard the rough, mechanical rotors of a helicopter. Shortly after that, I heard machine gun fire, and more shouting, but clearly not the shouting of the mob; shouts from a different group of men. I looked to the night sky, and saw a searchlight beaming from what was beyond any doubt, an IDF war helicopter. Troops were abseiling down from it.
They opened fire on some members of the crowd who’d stayed behind, and the crowds people, who were holding guns of their own, fought back. The entire battle took place as I stood in the middle, a dumb spectator. Bee, meanwhile, had been reduced to a blackened, skeletal tree stump, her body still flickering with dying flames here and there. In so many ways, with her arms locked behind her, and over her head, she resembled a burned Jesus Christ on the cross. I collapsed, overcome by lethargy and anguish, and woke up the next day in a hospital in Tel Aviv. Strange, when I think about how it was an assassination mission by the Israel’s military, was what saved me. It turned out that the mob’s main ringleader, Ib’n Usama Hasan al-Sheikh was actually a notorious Hamas commander, who had been on the Shabak’s wanted list for nearly 5 years, for coordinating a series of rocket attacks on Israeli citizens in West Jerusalem, killing as many as a hundred people. In honesty though, I really wish they had simply left me there to die.
Bee was given both a traditional Jewish style funeral ceremony at the Synagogue on the route where we used to walk to school, and a mourning service at the nearby Methodist Church. I’ll never forget the look on the face of her father. It was not a look of sadness, even grief, though I’m sure he had spent countless days grieving the loss of his only child. It was a silent look of stern reproach. I could read his expression, and I knew exactly what he was thinking: “You were supposed to take care of her. You should have done something.” In her spirit, I was supposed to read a short piece at the altar, with a message of love or something – one of her favourite excerpts from the Bible – a Psalm that read about how much better it is to forgive, and let live and some other thing or whatever – I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t preach this message, because it made no sense at all. It was all complete, utter nonsense. I stormed out of the church, and bawled like an immature little brat. I couldn’t do it. The reverend had to take over.
“The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.”
It’s too superficial to say that I committed this act purely out of revenge. I won’t deny that I do feel better, now that I have done the deed. To my mind, all the citizens of Gaza were responsible for her death. They all stole her from me, in a most unholy and sacrilegious manner, with their hatred. With their fear. They not only killed her in a most merciless, violent way, but the way they defiled her body, and treated her like a piece of garbage – it was all too much to bear. To rub salt in the wound, following the event, all news coverage of her murder, even though it did attract some mild interest, was completely eclipsed by the school explosion that preceded it. And by the Israeli armed mission that happened next. It was as if the killing didn’t matter. The only papers that seemed to pick up on this were the tabloids – papers that were usually ignored or looked down upon by the middle class, for political discussion. In the minds of most people, the narrative did not change. But worst of all, no-one was punished for it.
The Gaza strip is governed by Hamas. Hamas have been universally recognised as a terrorist organisation, and many times they have openly declared that they do not recognise the state of Israel. In Hamas’ charter, it is written that the Day of Judgement will not come, until the Muslims “fight the Jews” and kill them, even “when they hide behind stones and trees”. Hamas state television has been known to openly endorse the killing of Jews; it is widely tolerated, even acceptable in their eyes. A Palestinian representative of Hamas claimed in an international UN tribunal, that Bee Cohen had simply been “in the wrong place, at the wrong time”, and even had the nerve to imply that the Israeli government was at fault for antagonising the Palestinians to take violent action in response to the security threat posed by their attacks. He claimed to show remorse for her death, but whether he meant it or not is meaningless, and changes nothing. The story died down within weeks, and before long, everything went back to normal. In the end, nobody was ever indicted; let alone brought to trial.
I tried so hard to see things from her point of view. I wanted to find the strength to forgive those people – but even after all the years of soul-searching, I still didn’t have any. I simply could not find it in my heart to forgive those monsters for what they did. Irrespective of Israel’s treatment of them throughout history, I no longer cared about what their status as refugees. All their lives became forfeit.
By the time you are finished reading this story, all people in the Gaza strip will die. Not just Jabaliya – but all of them; there will be no survivors. Because I held everyone in the Gaza strip to be equally responsible for her death. And I spent four years planning; calculating how much poison would be just right, how to keep it hidden, how to keep the fellow volunteers from suspecting my sinister motives, and I took care to add just the right amount of amygdalin to each and every water bottle among my humanitarian colleagues; every provisional water tank that we had on our hands was supplied with the special adulterant. Because this would be the only “clean” water supply they would have available, and given the draconian restrictions on electrical equipment through Gaza checkpoints, thus limiting their ability to test, and purify the water, the Gazans would have no choice but to drink the Kool-aid, so to speak. No-one knew what I was planning. Of course, on the surface, I convinced them that I had moved on, and I made an effort to persuade everyone that knew me, how in spite of my eternal grief over her death, I could see the bigger picture, and still remained sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. It was a ruse, and they all fell for it.
A warm wind starts to blow against me. There is no sign of life anywhere. Wherever I look, there is dead silence, nothing but the faint buzzing of flies. I’ve prepared for them a most magnificent feast. Now it is time for me too, to face imminent Judgement. I remove from my belt a special bottle of water – not just regular water, but pure, concentrated, unadulterated amygdalin. I resolutely down the entire bottle. The die is cast.
In truth, while the Bible is a very large book, it is very consistent on the subject of revenge. Both Testaments Old and New condemn the use of revenge against ones’ enemies. The main reasons for this are twofold; the most obvious one found in the New Testament, where Jesus explains that it is always better to forgive, rather than be captivated by sinful thoughts of revenge. Jesus did not retaliate against his people, even when they turned away from him on the day of his crucifixion. It’s a message that sounds nice, and it resonated within Bee’s heart. Then there is the other reason, commonly taught in the Old Testament, which states that only the Lord God has the authority to revenge himself against His enemies and punish the wicked. To take matters into your own hands is a mortal sin against the Lord. The Lord wants us to stay righteous and steadfast against suffering, while He passes judgement at the end of humanity. So, suffice it to say, revenge is not permitted in God’s laws either. But, you know – there’s more to this killing than mere vengeance.
Consider, if you will, when The Lord destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God did promise Abraham that even if there were as little as 10 righteous people who lived there then He would spare both cities, just for their sake. But when Lot and his family, the only just beings to ever walk the city, after they fled both cities and entered Segor, leaving the Sodomites behind, The Lord instantly obliterated both cities with fire and brimstone that rained from the heavens. And why? Because they had grown sinful, and arrogant; they rebelled against His authority. Traditionally, it is taught that the Sodomites were condemned because of their tolerance of homosexuality. But the Bible is rather vague – it describes them as sinful and rebellious, but it never explains specifically in what way. And even if that were the case, surely that alone cannot justify their extinction? Surely the Sodomites and the inhabitants of Gomorrah must have doubtlessly been a wicked, violent and despicable people who indulged in all manner of crimes. They surrounded Lot’s house, and pressed violently upon him, threatening his guests; clearly they meant to kill him and rob him. They were beyond any measure, a Godless race of criminals who strayed from His wisdom.
One other point for reflection – why did the Lord feel the need to completely annihilate both cities, when he promised beforehand that he would shield those places because of the seldom few righteous inhabitants? We must ask, were there not young children – infants who lived there too, and faced devastation? How could they possibly be held accountable for the sins committed by their families, and their neighbours, especially when they were far too young to understand what the concept of “sin” even means? What possible justification could there have been for their deaths? Was this the act of an evil tyrant God who takes delight on inflicting suffering upon even newborn children? Well no; on the contrary, I believe there was a valid reason for what He did.
The Lord knew that there was no escape from their inevitable sink into iniquity. The babies would grow to become sinful adults, and lose their innocence permanently, when they became acclimatised to the sin and crime that surrounded them. So, the Lord spared them their descent into sin in the kindest way He could, by granting them immediate passage to the Kingdom of Heaven. He loved the children of Sodom and Gomorrah so much, He spared them from the sin that would later destroy them in their doomed city. Indeed, while the Lord encourages mankind not to take part in revenge, He Himself is always ready to pass vengeance upon those who cross Him. He flooded the entire earth, when He realised that the wickedness of man was too great. And even though Jesus forgave Judas for betraying him, no-one else did; not even the Lord. The Lord plagued him with so much guilt, that he cast away the 20 pieces of silver he was paid, and his life he did take.
I’ve talked at great length about everything that Bee believed in, but I never really explained what my own beliefs are. Here’s what I believe: every instance of time is predetermined, by the Lord. There is no such thing as chance, or Free Will. Our destiny is writ in the heavens, where only He knows how it all unfolds. Whichever path we take, only He can know the final result. We are what we are, because the Lord crafted us to be so. And it was He who dictated that once I witnessed Bee’s horrific death, I would be so traumatised, so overcome with grief, suffering and rage, for the sudden and brutal departure of the girl I loved so dearly. He decreed that I would never have the tolerance to forgive them. For the same reason that He produced the sudden intervention of the Israeli army, saving my life at the last minute, but not earlier when it could have saved her; He willed that the Gazans would lose their only source of pure drinking water, and thus provide me with the perfect motive, means and opportunity to destroy them. He dictated my vengeful thoughts to me in my sleep, and it was fated that I should be the one to single-handedly eliminate them, and put an end to the conflict between the Gazans and the Israelis once and for all.
The Lord is just, all-powerful, and all knowing. Nothing escapes from His wrath. At some point in the distant future, Jesus Christ shall rise once again from the dead for a second time, and herald the end of humanity. Then the Lord will pass judgement on all of humankind. All the ignorant, unenlightened, self-righteous reprobates who turned away from His rule shall finally know Judgement, and all the innocent shall be rewarded in heaven. And for all who live within the Gaza strip, today that day is come.
So I am brought here today not to pass retribution, but as a messenger of the Apocalypse. Those who encouraged, took part in and stood by and watch Bee’s death but did nought to save her, shall all be condemned to Hell. Little Yusuf, and the sweet young children like him, free from sin and with the innocence of childhood shall be rewarded with eternal bliss. But as for the older inhabitants of Gaza, with their fondness for sin, their violence, their disregard for human life, their arrogance, their sacrilege, their rebellion against the laws of God, will suffer His Wrath. Not even I shall escape Judgement. I too must face consequences for my actions. My only regret is that I will never see Bee ever again. But what choice did I have? In spite of everything that has ever happened, I still stand by what I said. Some actions are inexcusable. Some people are not, and never will be worthy of forgiveness. In honesty, as much as I did love her, there were indeed times when even I found Bee to be too naïve, and too obstinate to embrace the truth.
It could just be my imagination, but it seems that already the symptoms are starting to take effect. History will always remember me as a mass-murderer, who committed genocide against the Palestinian people. No doubt, Bee would find this act most impious, and evil. She would never sympathise with my motives. But I am not doing this for her, either. I am doing this for God. And in the words of Paul the Apostle, when he addressed the church at Corinth:
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgement:…”
I start to wheeze, and hyperventilate. This soon? Saliva spills from my mouth. My insides feel as if they are literally on fire. My heart feels as if it is burning. I cough, expecting projectile blood to fly out.
“…yea, I judge not mine own self.”
Now, the poison has really taken its toll on my body. I start to feel dizzy. My eyesight is failing me. Is this what an eternity of fire and brimstone feels like? It is as if I am already in the depths of hell. The pain is not diminishing, but it only increases more and more – more than I thought possible.
…For I know nothing by myself…”
I feel as if I my own weight is conspiring against me. My limbs jerk, fly around uncontrollably. The pain is so strong, it makes me well up in tears. Each nanosecond, I pray them I am quickly delivered from this unimaginable agony. It just doesn’t stop increasing. It only gets worse and worse.
“…yet am I not hereby justified: but-”
The pain is so strong – it feels like my body is about to literally explode – just make it stop! This really is the end…suddenly, I am afraid. Really, really frightened. A sudden realisation dawns on me. I really should have listened to her. I should have forgiven them – I should have let it all go. Bee… I’m so sorry. You were right all along.
“…he that judgeth me is the Lord.”